As I’ve mentioned before, my internship is with European Network of Cultural Centres, where we work as a “network of networks.” I had the opportunity to visit a local cultural centre here in Brussels and volunteer for the day at De Kriekelaar.
Cultural centres in Europe are like community centers in America multiplied by 1000. This particular one had a theater, a green room, a dance hall, a yoga room, a full kitchen, a cafeteria, a bar, and three floors for classes and offices. It was very impressive.
On the day we visited, local mothers had gathered at the center to cook meals to feed refugees in Park Maximilian. The refugee crisis has been going on for years in Europe and Brussels is not exempt. Passing by the park, which is located near the office where refugees must go to seek asylum, you will often find scores of people hanging around. They wait there all day to be able to go to the office and with little where else to go, the place has become synonymous with the crisis here in Brussels. Once a month, this group of mothers comes together to prepare hot meals for the refugees so they at least have something to eat.
When we arrived, my coworkers and I were put to work. The menu was chicken, potatoes, carrots, bread, and a bottle of water. We needed a lot of ingredients for this reason so we contributed by doing some prep. We peeled huge bags of potatoes for the mothers and found out a little more about their backgrounds. Many were from areas where the refugees came from but were here in Brussels for much less unfortunate circumstances. They figured they should give back and help out. I was really touched by their kind hearts and it motivated me through the entire day!
We went to have a tour of the cultural centre and watch a play being put on before it was back to work. We folded napkins to go into the bags. There was a whopping 500 of them to fill and we had to move quickly, as a truck would be coming to pick up the food and take it to the park. Then we helped seal the meals and fill up boxes for the truck. I was admittedly starving so being around the delicious smelling food without being able to eat them was a struggle. But I knew that the people who would be getting them needed it was more than I did. Luckily, there was a ton of potatoes left and we all shared some with bread. So yummy!
The truck showed up and we filled it with the boxes. Then we headed off to the park. As this wasn’t the first time the mothers did this, the crowd recognized the truck and began to gather. They were instructed to get into a line and were handed bags to receive their food, bread and water. They were also offered coffee or tea. Though some people were more reserved, others were very openly thankful towards us and it was a good feeling.
We ran out after a few hours but thankfully, other organizations had shown up in the time we were there with hot meals of their own and a medical truck came by to offer their services to the refugees.
I’m so glad that I got this opportunity and I highly encourage anyone who is offered the chance to give back while on study abroad.